With so many cake recipes available on the internet, it can be difficult to know which ones to choose. In this blog post we’ll share our Top 5 Ingredients to look out for when you have a craving to bake.
4 years in a baking business has taught me a few things:
We all have good baking days and bad baking days.
You won’t get sick by eating half a bowl of cake batter (no matter what your Mum told you growing up...sorry Mum!).
And, baking is an art, based on science, precision and a pinch of luck.
It’s the last lesson that really is the key – baking is truly an art. Not like the creative pursuit found in the decorating of cakes but from the chemistry of the baking. Different combinations of ingredients create different cake crumb textures, moisture levels and flavours.
When Sweet Lucy began, I certainly wasn’t too interested in the science behind the baking and consequently had a few (too many) cake fails. Over time, I noticed that the test recipes that worked the best had a few things in common. Today, I want to share 5 ingredients that I look for when trialing new recipes for you and why. Maybe next time you are scrolling through the internet with cake bake cravings, take note if the recipes include some of these ingredients...might be worth trying.
1. Cake Flour
Cake Flour has less protein (gluten) than Plain Flour and produces lighter, well-structured cakes. You will see many of the US recipes include Cake Flour and is readily available there. We can buy it here in Australia in the major supermarkets (look for Lighthouse brand), but it is much cheaper and convenient to make it at home.
Here’s how: Start with 1 cup of Plain Flour, remove 2 Tablespoons and replace with 2 Tablespoons of Cornflour. Make sure that the recipe also includes Baking Powder (1 teaspoon per 1 cup of Cake Flour). This is needed as the Cake Flour does not have a rising agent.
TOP TIP: Look for recipes that have a combination of Plain and Cake Flour. Perfect for Vanilla Cakes.
2. Butter & Oil
I used to be a "butter" girl when it came to baking. As a child I would watch my Mum and Grandma create delicious cakes and baked goods from scratch using butter. So it took me some time to try recipes that contained oil. Now, many of my most popular recipes that are my core business are baked with a combination of butter and oil. You can thank butter for the cake's beautiful flavour. And oil for a more moist, longer-lasting cake with better texture from a more even crumb. Think of butter for flavour and oil for moistness.
TOP TIP: Give it a go next time you are making your favourite chocolate cake recipe. Replace up to 20% of the butter in the recipe with oil. Cocoa powder often dries out cakes and the oil can counteract this effect.
3. Sour Cream
Discovering the difference that sour cream makes to cake texture was a real game changer for Sweet Lucy. Sour Cream is a great fat choice for creating moistness and a lighter texture but also it's acidity creates a tender crumb. There is a great article that delves further into this, written by The Cake Blog's Summer Stone - Which Dairy Makes The Best Cake.
TOP TIP: Other good fat/acidity options are yoghurt and buttermilk.
4. Dark Cocoa Powder
Only now am I grateful for all the cake fails I have "achieved" over the last 4 years as it guided me to take a deep dive into the science of baking. Understanding why certain ingredients reacted why they did helped to improve my baking success rate. The last ingredient I researched was cocoa powder of which there are two types; natural and dutch processed. Admittedly, I thought the only difference was the colour, with natural being lighter and dutch being darker.
There is actually a great difference that will contribute to how your cakes end up baking. Natural cocoa can be acidic, whereas the process to make dutch cocoa neutralisers the acid. Both types can be used in recipes that do not require a chemical reaction to create lightness and structure eg hot chocolates, chocolate sauces, icecreams etc. But, here's the important part; for all cakes, cupcakes and breads only use natural cocoa. You will need the acid to complete the chemical reaction. Here's a very detailed explanation of natural versus dutch from Sally's Baking Addiction.
As most of my business are cakes and cupcakes, I always use natural cocoa but I look for powders that are dark. The darker the powder, the deeper the flavour.
TOP TIP: Personally, I have found that the Woolworths brand is not only great value but a lovely dark colour.
5. Baking Soda & Baking Powder
Once again, we have 2 ingredients that although both appearing similar, are in fact chemically very different. Both Baking Soda (Bi-carb Soda) and Baking Powders are leaveners but that is where the similarities pretty much stop. A Leavening agent is “any one of a number of substances used in doughs and batters that cause a foaming action that lightens and softens the mixture”.
To learn about the differences, this post from Sally's Baking Addiction is well worth the read.
I have a few core recipes that use Self Raising Flour negating the need for these two ingredients but have found that I am increasingly replacing these recipes with the ones that use Plain Flour/Cake Flour in conjunction with Baking Soda & Baking Powder. The results are speaking for themselves.
TOP TIP: Look for baking soda in light chocolate cake recipes – it’s needed for support as the cocoa is a cake structure-weakener due to its acidity.
If you have any baking questions at all, or would like to add your tried and true hints & tips, I would love to hear from you. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.